Drug user who helped himself to “Willy Wonka’s golden ticket” in £50m cocaine haul on Norfolk beach spared jail

The bags of cocaine seized from the beach

The bags of cocaine seized from the beach - Credit: Archant

An 'opportunistic' drug user who helped himself to some of a £50 million cocaine stash that washed up on a beach and bragged in a text message that he had found 'Willy Wonka's golden ticket' has been sentenced to a suspended jail-term of two years.

About 794lb (360kg) of cocaine washed up in holdalls on beaches at Caister-on-Sea and Hopton-on-Sea in February this year.

National Crime Agency officers attended and said the loss of the drugs would 'represent a major blow to the organised criminals involved'.

Before all of the beached drugs could be gathered up by officers, local man Julian Underhill, of Charles Close, Caister-on-Sea, found and pocketed some.

Police went to his home on March 3 and seized his find.

Martin Ivory, prosecuting, said Underhill claimed to have found two one-kilo packages, each of which had already been broken into before he found them.

'The defendant, in his text messages to another individual, effectively said he had stumbled upon what he described as Willy Wonka's golden ticket and speculated he could be £20,000 to £30,000 better-off based on what he found on the beach,' he said.

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Norwich Crown Court heard Underhill used some of the cocaine himself, supplied some to others and was also found to have £5,000 of cannabis in a safe.

The 34-year-old admitted at an earlier hearing at Norwich Crown Court to being concerned in the supply of cocaine and possession of cocaine, and being concerned in the supply of cannabis and possession of cannabis with intent to supply.

Judge Maureen Bacon QC sentenced Underhill to two years in prison suspended for two years and ordered that he take part in a drug rehabilitation programme.

She described Underhill's actions as 'opportunistic' and noted he had learning difficulties.

She said the amount of cocaine he had was 'perhaps not as high as a whole kilogram' and that his supply of cocaine was confined to a three-week period within a circle of people he knew.

Andrew Oliver, mitigating, said Underhill, a 'low-level cannabis supplier', bragged about his find in text messages to a female friend.

In one, he said 'loose lips sink ships' but word got out and Underhill started to receive requests for cocaine, Mr Oliver said.

'What he considered to be a fortuitous find has landed him in a lot more trouble than he would ever get into,' he said.

He described Underhill as a 'somewhat pathetic and heavy user of cannabis and crack cocaine' who happened upon an undetermined quantity of cocaine and supplied some of it and consumed some of it.

Underhill is a carer for his grandmother who is in her 60s, Mr Oliver said.

The defendant, who wore an un-ironed brown shirt and had his hair slicked into a side parting, said 'thank you' to the judge as he was spared jail.